What happens when the majority agrees but a few strongly disagree? There are several questions that come to mind in examining this situation:
1. How can the group listen to the concerns or perspective raised by a minority viewpoint?
2. What is a productive way to understand the wisdom, fears, or potential losses this "other" view brings forth?
3. Might you work to get the few to consent to the group's position or can the majority view be changed by the minority?
4. Might the group be able to help those with the minority view dispel their myths or fears?
5. Is there a moderate decision that might serve multiple viewpoints?
6. How can we, as facilitators, empower the minority voices to demonstrate effective leadership and share their concerns through a positive process?
One has only to think about Henry Fonda in the 1954 teleplay "12 Angry Men" where he transforms the opinion of the majority by persuading his peer jurors to examine their biases and re-evaluate information before making what appeared to be the obvious and perhaps wrong decision.
What is the facilitator's role in this situation?
The facilitator's job is to create an environment and a process whereby all perspectives can be aired and examined as part of the decision-making and team-building process. Might the group be lost in forward momentum and not fully evaluating the consequences? We, as facilitators, must exhibit patience and leadership as we encourage the group to embrace a new perspective or insight. We also need to consider the diverse needs of each participant and their unique communication style. This involves being aware of cultural values, beliefs, history, relationships and leadership structure -- your own, as well as everyone's in the group. Try to ascertain if the person or people opposing the group's decision have a history of being oppositional no matter what the issue and are forever standing in the way of action. The goal is to have the perspective based on the best interest of the group, not self-interest.
An experienced facilitator is patient and allows the process to unfold at its own pace. Sometimes the best thing to do is to wait, allowing participants time to process and issues to surface. Remember the upside-down strategy: stop and do not do anything -- just stand there. And be quiet, don't say anything. Let the participants fill the silence. Trust the members of your group. Groups can be self-correcting. Sometimes, the best thing is to allow other members of the group to talk with and listen to the minority voice in a space outside the full group convening.
A good facilitator should practice reflective listening. Listen carefully to what all participants have to say, then paraphrase and give it back. Also helpful is to place controversial information on a handout, chart, or project onto a screen. This takes the focus away from you or the speaker as the source of the information.
Sometimes useful is to establish equal participation by all members as a group goal at the start of the meeting. Encourage the participants to help monitor and manage personal participation. If you have some voices that are long-winded with a tendency to grab the air time, consider imposing time limits on participants. One option is to give the participants an equal number of time chits (one idea is to use poker chips), each worth one to ½ minute of talking time. The participants can then decide what they want to spend their time verbalizing. It also helps the facilitator see who has not talked.
If the facilitator sees that some are not talking or sharing, ask a direct question to the silent participant, ask questions related to the silent participant's areas of expertise and interest. Or ask the silent participant to react to someone else's statement. If the group is large, consider breaking into small groups for preliminary sharing of ideas. Then ask each pair or trio to give a summary report of their discussion.
What Should the Facilitator Do About the Minority Viewpoint?
Importantly, as servant of the group, the facilitator should look at process changes or interventions that can meet this person's concerns, preserve their contribution, and allow the group to move forward. Here again, get tacit or explicit agreement from the group that this person's contributions are worth taking the time or making the changes. Remember that the facilitator is not necessarily there to serve the immediate needs of the group but the longer-term best interest of the group.
With a participant who has said something contrary to the groupthink, compliment the participant for his or her sensitivity and ask for a clarification. This will allow her or him to further express the reasons behind their opinion. Then ask the other participants if they understood the comment. Do this without appearing to ridicule the person who made the contrary observation.
Very useful in this situation (and a general practice) is to keep track of the group memory. Group memory is posted on the walls or otherwise collected where everyone can see it. Here is where you keep all comments, ideas, discussion, agreements, thoughts, votes, and decisions, so each person can see what has been discussed and understand where the group is at the present moment. The group memory is used to keep the focus and to work in a logical sequence. With the statements and notes on the wall, someone can more easily question positions shown in the group memory without abusing the person who originally proposed it.
If the meeting is multi-session, at the end of a session ask the participants to write their concerns, comments, suggestions, or whatever on index cards. Then ask one or two volunteers to organize the cards into themes. At the beginning of the next session share the themes with the group and allow time for discussion.
What is the Best Way to Make a Decision?
Whatever the method of decision-making, all participant perspectives should be considered -- allowing for the gathering of all available information. This way the group can make the decision that is in their best interest allowing all participants to feel heard and valued. This prevents underlying and unresolved issues from eating away at relationships or lingering questioning of the decision the group comes to.
First, does the group have an agreed upon decision making process? The most often used decision-making models are as follows:
· Autocratic - ruler has absolute power
· Democratic - majority rule (51% or more)
· Supermajority - a specified majority vote (example 67%)
· Consensus - consent or concede to the will of the people
· Unanimity - solidarity with lack of objection (obviously not happening in this case)
Generally speaking, when a group votes using majority rule or parliamentary procedure, a competitive dynamic is created within the group because it is being asked to choose between two (or more) possibilities. Traditional majority democracy will take a vote and then move forward with a decision. But the idea that the minority will just go along happily with the majority decision is actually a myth.
If you truly want to have all voices and opinions honored, consider the Deep Democracy (DD) model of reaching decisions which goes beyond more conventional group-decision-making processes such the majority rule. It is "democratic" because it emphasizes that every voice matters and that decision are wisest when majority and minority voices are both valued. The most typical starting point of discussing DD is to picture an iceberg. Generally, only 10% of the iceberg is above the waterline, while 90% is concealed below water and not visible. In a group coming together for some purpose, there are aspects that are conscious to the whole group and aspects that are in the group's unconscious.
The group's "unconscious" will often be reflected in the one-on-one and small group conversations that happen outside the formal meetings and in unexpressed emotions and opinions. Before a decision is made, efforts should be made to lower the waterline and surface as many of the underlying issues. This should be recorded in the group memory for use in the later stage of decision-making. DD is an attitude that focuses on the awareness of voices that are both central and marginal. It suggests that the information carried within these voices is needed to understand the complete picture. To surface all the views the facilitator should remember to 1) ask if there other perspectives; 2) make it safe to have an alternative view; and 3) spread the alternative view by asking who else feels or thinks a little bit like this?
When the majority has decided to go in a certain direction, the minority is asked "what do you need to go along with the majority?" This is not a second chance for the minority to say "no". The minority will add wisdom and elaborate on the decision by qualifying it with what they need.
DD decision-making is about bringing the group around to a consensus view, where everyone feels heard and has reached a point where they are ready to allow the decision to go forward. Within the process is where the Henry Fonda character referred to above has the opportunity to bring around the group to a minority viewpoint.
Consensus building, like other valuable parts of negotiation and conflict resolution, is often messy and time consuming, but the result can be a vibrant, inclusive process of reaching decisions to which people feel deeply committed. Decision-making is as much about conflict as it is about agreement, consensus building works best in an atmosphere in which conflict is encouraged, supported, and resolved cooperatively with respect, nonviolence, and creativity.
Conflict is not something to be avoided, dismissed, diminished, or denied. The consensus process creates a cooperative dynamic. Only one proposal is considered at a time. Everyone works together to make it the best possible decision for the group. Any concerns are raised and resolved, sometimes one by one, until all voices are heard. Since proposals are no longer the property of the presenter, a solution can be created more cooperatively.
Somewhat adapted from The Northwest Center for Cooperative Development, "Deciding How to Decide" www.nwcdc.coop/Resources/CSS/CSS04Deciding2D.pdf